Article by James Gillespie Published: 06.03.16
Three children have been awarded substantial damages after the killing of their mother by their mentally ill father, who had been turned away from hospital by a nurse and told to go home and “tidy” up. The youngest child, who was three at the time, witnessed her mother being stabbed. The eldest boy tried to save her.
The damages – believed to be in six figures – were agreed by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) and will be invested for the long-term future of the children.
A psychiatric liaison nurse in the accident and emergency department at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, Kent, decided in February 2011 that former soldier Gary Walker did not pose a risk to himself or others, despite earlier having smashed up the family home and made threats against his wife, Natalie, 34, and their children.
Walker had been sent to the hospital as an emergency referral by his GP, who was so concerned that he or she paid the fare for the taxi taking him there.
He expected to be admitted and a junior doctor who assessed him recorded that he was paranoid, hallucinating and making threats. Yet the psychiatric liaison nurse recommended Walker “go…and tidy the family home”.
He spent three nights sleeping in nearby woods before retuning home and asking his wife and children – who were staying with his mother-in-law – to visit.
The horror of the subsequent killing was described by the youngest child, Maisie, who recalled witnessing “Daddy holding a knife and Daddy phoning the police and blaming it on Mummy”.
In November 2011, Walker, then 42, was jailed indefinitely for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The judge criticised the decision not to admit him to hospital and told the trust to conduct an independent inquiry. This found that the trust had missed the opportunity to assess fully the risk Walker posed.
Natalie’s mother, Jackie Gardner, who has been caring for the children – Kallum, 17, Harry, 12, and Maisie, 8 – since her daughter was killed, subsequently sued the trust on the children’s behalf.
“They [the trust] admitted that if they had done their jobs, my daughter would still be with us,” said Gardner, 65.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through what we have been through. If someone else gets treated better, then the legal case was worth it.”
Gardner said that Walker’s growing mental health problems at the time of the killing had been clearly visible.
“He was paranoid about everything. If you went into the house he would lock the door behind you, the curtains were always drawn,” she said. “He said that the TV was talking to him and he even took his computer to the police station because he thought the Taliban [were] hacking it.”
Walker had sought help on several occasions from community mental health services and had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. There had been previous incidents of domestic violence.
The independent report commissioned by NHS South of England found that the psychiatric liaison nurse’s actions constituted gross misconduct and would have merited dismissal had he or she not already left the trust.
Nick Fairweather, a medical negligence solicitor in Whitstable, Kent, who represented the Gardner family, said: “They are shutting acute hospital beds so there is so much pressure not to admit people, but its not just about resources, its about the quality of frontline people. It was obvious to the family, obvious to a GP, obvious to triage and the junior doctor in A&E the seriousness of the situation. And when you get to the specialist input it all just falls away again.”
KMPT said: “We are pleased that the court has approved settlement in this matter. We would once again like to pass on our condolences to the family. The trust has admitted liability and apologised personally to Natalie’s family. Her death could have been prevented and we have changed practices as a direct consequence.”
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Sunday Times.